Industry 4.0 encompasses so many technologies and offers so many transformational opportunities that it can be hard to know where to start. For example, McKinsey lists almost 30 distinct functions across eight different manufacturing business areas that can benefit from Industry 4.0.

No company has unlimited resources, so you need to be sure you work on the highest priority areas first. Even then, it can be hard to know where to start. Big data or AI? Robotics or AR? 3-D printing or Nano technology? Are all the components of Industry 4.0 ready for prime time, or are some of them too new for you to bet your business on? Couple the breadth of applicability with the vast number of new tools and technologies that must work together, and suddenly getting started with Industry 4.0 can feel overwhelming.

That’s why it makes sense to work with a trusted partner and to take the time to put together a roadmap for achieving your goals. Although the details of each company’s journey will be different, every company should start with these six steps to develop their roadmap.

STEP 1…Prioritize Your Wishlist

You probably have a million ideas about how Industry 4.0 can improve your business, and all of them are good ideas. But you can’t reengineer your entire business in a single day or week—not even in a single year. Take the time to prioritize your wish list so that you get the biggest boost with the least risk and the most learning experience you can.

A few words of advice.

The “Don’t” List

  • Don’t start with your biggest, hairiest, most out of control process. Your team may be overwhelmed, and this approach may set them up for failure.
  • Don’t start with a key differentiating process. It isn’t worth messing up a key differentiator to gain expertise.

Note: a “differentiating process” is any business process that provides you a competitive advantage. For example, if your final quality control operation is so effective that you can guarantee 100% reliability of every shipped part and that’s why customers buy from you, that is your differentiation…don’t start there!

The “Do” List

  • Do approach the change with a detailed project plan and an assigned team with goals.
  • Do select a process that needs improvement even though it is stable.
  • Do treat the first one as a learning experience.

STEP 2…Set Realistic Goals

Now that you have identified your initial target process, make sure you have goals for improvement. To do this well, you need to know how the process is functioning now. If your goal is to reduce the time it takes to execute a process, for example, you need to know how long the process takes now. Then you can set a realistic, measurable goal. A paperless factory floor system that tracks time of your process and activity might be a good starting point.

You can set multiple goals for the same process, but don’t go overboard. You may decide that you want to reduce a process by one hour and reduce the number of manual steps from 10 to seven. Stop there. Resist the temptation to add so many goals that you can’t tell what is creating the improvement.

That caution may mean introducing just one piece of the Industry 4.0 technology at a time. You may decide to start by connecting equipment in a single department. One good starting point might be to connect the equipment using an OEE application. For more information follow this link: Common OEE Myths & Mistakes.  Once you can reliably gather production data, you may decide to add in big data analytics to gain insight on production or to use the connection for reordering inventory for the line.

STEP 3…Stabilize Your Core

If you go to the gym, the trainers will recommend exercises to strengthen your core. They will tell you to stabilize your core for every exercise. You should do the same when you go to work on Industry 4.0.

Before you make any changes to existing processes, make sure the underlying process is stable and that you have the right foundation in place. You should be on the latest versions of your business systems, and those business systems should be fit for the purpose you have in mind.

For example, if you are interested in improving shop floor scheduling to reduce downtime, you will need something more sophisticated than a basic ERP scheduling system. Your first step toward becoming an Industry 4.0 practitioner may be implementing an MES or APS solution so you have the right tools to manage the new technology and data volumes.

You can’t use IoT technology to connect minute-by-minute production data if you’re using ERP for shop floor control. It won’t have any place to store the data volumes, and ERP can’t schedule to that level of operation detail with only a single “material” based constraint. Make sure your core business systems are strong and stable enough to support your Industry 4.0 efforts. Take this test to see if you are ready for an APS.

STEP 4…Create a Detailed Project Plan

We touched on this in the do’s and don’ts section, but it bears repeating. You will be making changes to essential business processes, so make a plan. Be sure you have milestones in place for key events, and that you know who will be performing each task. Have checkpoints in place and know your go/no go decision points.

Don’t treat this as an IT project, although IT will be an essential part of the project team. Your line of business people must understand and own the process, or your project is doomed.

STEP 5…Splurge on Training

For some reason, training always seems to get short-changed in technology projects. With Industry 4.0, which is all about technology, training is more critical than ever.

Be sure the people involved understand the technologies that are coming, and the project goals. They must understand their individual roles in the changes, and how it may affect them as well as the company.

This not only applies to new technologies such as AR or robotics, it is equally applicable to the core business systems and technologies. Be sure that people have been adequately trained in your MES/APS systems. You can’t expect them to recognize a manufacturing Internet IoT issue if they don’t know how the MES System works to begin with. This is part of strengthening your core, but it is so critical that it bears repeating. Do not skimp on training if you hope to succeed.

STEP 6…Rinse and Repeat

Once you have been through the first phase of the first project, evaluate the entire project. What lessons did you earn about your business, your people or the Industry 4.0 technology? Did you meet your project goals? If not, have you done a root cause analysis to find out what happened? Once you have thoroughly analyzed what worked and didn’t work in your first foray into Industry 4., you can go back to step one and begin the next project or phase.

As you become more comfortable with the new technologies—and as they become more mature—you will find that each project or phase can move more quickly. Eventually, you will have made the digital transformation across all your products and business areas.

For more information about MES solutions click this link: Download the MES Myths & Mistakes Whitepaper.